From Gene Logsdon
Billy Blundermacher was maybe not the smartest farmer in Winsome County but contrary to what politicians, prophets, preachers and pedagogues were saying, he knew that 1 plus 1 always equaled 2. Often he wished fervently it were not so, that numbers existed only in the fantasy realm of the Federal Reserve, not the real world. Then, on occasion 1 plus 1 might equal 22 or 222, or as government farm subsidy programs intimated, possibly 2,222,222. But no matter how he pecked away at his calculator, it always turned out that 1 plus 1 equaled 2. In the fall of 2009, it looked like 1 plus 1 was going to equal a minus 2 and that’s why he was so worried.
He sat disconsolately in his pickup staring out the windshield at one of the finest corn crops he had ever grown, a thousand acres that were going to yield 180 bushels to the acre for sure, or if he were really unlucky, as much as 222 bushels per acre. The reason that might be unlucky was that in the world where 1 plus 1 equaled 2, there was a chance that because of the exorbitant cost of production, he might lose anywhere from 2 cents to 22 cents on every bushel of corn he harvested. As his hired man remarked, pulling on his jaw, “damned good thing you didn’t plant 2000 acres, ain’t it?”
The crux of his problem was the weather. The summer had been cool and the fall rainy, so the corn had ripened only slowly. The moisture content in the grain was still above 25%. To keep corn from molding in storage, it needed to dry down to at least 15% moisture. If he harvested the crop now, it meant drying the grain artificially with propane. All the figures he had in front of him indicated that it would cost him something like thirty cents a bushel. To dry a thousand acres of 180 bushel corn at that moisture content meant spending a cool $54,000. He did the numbers for the fifth time, unable to believe that, yes, once more, 1 plus 1 still equaled 2.
If it weren’t for the drying cost, he might have squeaked out a bit of a profit on his excellent corn crop even while paying $200 an acre for rented land, $300 a bag for seed corn, over $100 an acre for fertilizer and herbicides (he was afraid to put the calculator to that actual number yet), not to mention the cost of keeping half a million dollars worth of farm machinery up and running plus a semi-truck to haul the grain to the elevator. If he dried the corn himself, the cost might be a little less, but that meant investing in bins, dryer, fans, augurs etc. etc. right out the old bank window.
That is why he had not taken off any corn yet. Perhaps the weather would turn warm and fair and the corn would dry down to at least 18% moisture on the stalk and save him a truckload of money. But wishing for warm, sunny weather in November in Winsome County was another version of believing that 1 plus 1 equaled something more than 2, so he knew he was going to have to start the harvest. It just might blow up a blizzard soon or a flood, or a windstorm and then, instead of losing only a few dollars an acre, he might lose the whole shebang.
That’s when, staring out the windshield, he had the greatest idea of his lifetime so far. He was thinking about how the ethanol gang, having gone nearly broke accepting subsidies from the government to make fuel out of corn, was talking big about using the stalks and cobs instead. That reminded him of the old days before farmers went crazy when his father harvested ear corn and put it in slatted cribs to dry naturally at no fuel cost at all. Why not, he mused, go back to ear corn harvesters and save $50,000 in drying costs. There were plenty of those old harvesters still around. He could make cheap cribs out of wood poles with fence wire walls to allow for good air circulation, and a cheap metal roof. He could build a lot of that kind of storage for $50,000 and it would last his life time anyway. Then he could feed the corn to livestock or shell it and sell when the price went up, and, oh wow, still have the cobs to sell to the ethanol dreamers. For every bushel of corn there were about 12 pounds of cobs. At 180 bushels per acre, that amounted to about a thousand tons of cobs. If the government continued its fairyland thinking, it might pay the ethanol boys a subsidy to buy cobs, maybe $22.22 a ton which would mean that he had about $22,222 in cobs in the crib. Oh boy. Prosperity was just around the corner.
And so it came to pass that Winsome County became the home of the biggest corn crib in the world. Four feet wide, 20 feet high, and stretching clear across Billy’s thousand acres and back again. However, it still stood there full of corn the next spring because the corn price had not gone up, the hog market was still in limbo if not hell, and beef prices had slumped as the government shelled out yet another $350 million dollars to dairy farmers to send their cows to slaughter and flood the market with meat. In fairyland, that was supposed to raise the price of milk. Also it came to pass that making gas out of corn cobs was not such a hot idea after all. Not even subsidized ethanol was safe from the inexorable law of 1 plus 1 equals 2. As Grandpaw Blundermacher said, “Cobs are great for starting stove fires, but not cars.”
But Billy was not much dismayed. He’d had another brain storm and he was busy on his calculator. He had remembered how his grandmother made jelly out of corn cobs and how good it had tasted. As close as he could figure so far, even if he lost money shelling and selling all that corn, he had enough cobs to make some $2,222,222 worth of jelly.